TV/Film Production Assistant

The Job and What's Involved

TV/film production assistants co-ordinate the administrative tasks involved in making a live or pre-recorded TV programme or film. They may be involved in all kinds of projects from news broadcasts to reality TV shows, music and comedy shows, soap operas, dramas and feature films. Usually production assistants join a production team in the very early stages of a project and work until the final product is delivered. Their role involves supporting other members of the production team by taking on a wide range of tasks that do not require specialist training.

Duties vary according to the type and size of the project, but may involve:

  • Attending production meetings.
  • Managing budgets and expenses.
  • Typing, editing, copying and distributing scripts.
  • Booking facilities for studio and location filming.
  • Making travel arrangements and booking hotels for cast and crew.
  • Organising rehearsal times and shooting schedules.
  • Obtaining permission to use music or film clips which are under copyright.
  • Sourcing props, such as vintage vehicles, and making sure that they are available for filming on the right day.
  • Being responsible for continuity (noting the position of actors and props on set so that shots can be matched up).
  • Looking after cast members, perhaps by doing their shopping or driving them from place to place.
  • Running errands between departments, such as the camera, sound and costume departments.

Production assistants often work in teams of anything between 2 and 70 people, depending on the size of the production. They work closely with other members of the production team and with other people involved in the production, including the camera, sound and lighting crews and wardrobe, make-up and props departments.

There are no standard hours for production assistants. The actual hours worked depend on the type and size of the production, but are likely to involve early starts and late finishes as well as some weekend work. Most production assistants are freelance and may face periods of unemployment between contracts.

Production assistants are usually based in offices, but spend much of their time moving between production areas. During live transmission, they may sit in a darkened production gallery, surrounded by a large number of monitors.

Travelling to other parts of the UK and overseas is possible, and production assistants may spend short or long periods away from home. Filming on location could involve working in many different climates and parts of the world including deserts, rainforests and arctic conditions.

A driving licence is usually essential.

A trainee production assistant may earn around £15,250 a year. Unsocial hours payments and meal allowances may be paid.

Freelance production assistants earn a negotiated fee per production. Industry minimum rates are around £109 for an eight-hour day. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) publishes recommended minimum rates on its website.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Production assistants work for terrestrial, satellite, digital and cable broadcasters as well as independent television and film production companies. Many production assistants are self-employed, working on short-term contracts on a freelance basis. Over half of the UK's TV and film industry is based in London and south-east England, but there are some opportunities in other parts of the UK.

Some vacancies are advertised on broadcasters' websites, in national newspapers, such as The Guardian (on Mondays) or on recruitment websites, such as www.broadcastnow.co.uk. However, many jobs are never advertised by conventional means and people hear about them through word of mouth. This means it is very important to build up a network of industry contacts and to gain as much work experience as possible. Guidelines from the Department of Trade and Industry on work experience in television are available on the Skillset website (the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media.)

Some companies, such as the BBC, offer work experience placements, but competition for places is fierce.

Education and Training

There are no set educational requirements to begin a career as a production assistant, but entry is very competitive so many new entrants have qualifications, such as Higher National Certificates/Diplomas (HNC's/HND's) and degrees.

There is a range of relevant qualifications available:

  • BTEC First Diploma in media.
  • City & Guilds qualifications, such as the Level 3 Diploma in media techniques.
  • AS/A level in media studies.
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in media production.
  • HNC/HND, foundation degrees, first degrees and postgraduate qualifications in film and TV production.

The Diploma in creative and media (available in England) may also be relevant for this area of work.

Skillset's network of Screen Academies and Media Academies are institutions that it has identified as offering the highest quality of film and television skills training. Details are available on its website. There is also a comprehensive course database.

Entry requirements to courses vary according to the qualification and candidates are advised to check with individual institutions. In general, entry to a degree course requires a minimum of five GCSE's (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent. For HNC/HND courses normal entry requirements are at least one A level plus three GCSE's (A*-C), a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in a relevant subject, or equivalent.

It is vital to demonstrate commitment to the work and, in most cases, to have had previous relevant experience. Experience of administrative work is also an advantage. Joining a film club or dramatic society and getting involved in productions, or working in hospital radio or community radio or television, can be helpful.

A typical starting point is to enter the industry as a runner and, after gaining experience on the job, apply for production assistant positions.

There are a number of schemes available for new entrants to TV or film. Entry to these schemes is fiercely competitive. They include:

Schemes run by Skillset and the regional screen agencies across the UK. These are aimed at people who are committed to a freelance career in the industry and who already have some experience. Schemes last between 3 and 18 months and combine short course training with industry placements. Trainees receive an allowance and work towards vocational qualifications.

Schemes of varying lengths run by broadcasting companies, including the BBC and Channel 4. Details are available on the websites of the individual broadcasters.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Production assistants usually train on the job, under the supervision of experienced production assistants and other members of the production team. They may also attend short courses on subjects such as gallery techniques, continuity, location filming or live studio skills.

The Production Guild provides a programme of seminars and events for its members.

Freelancers have to fund their own training, but they may be eligible for support from Skillset to cover part of the fees.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A production assistant should:

  • Be a good organiser.
  • Be able to prioritise many different tasks and meet tight deadlines.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to listen carefully and follow instructions.
  • Be calm and able to work well under pressure.
  • Have good keyboard and computer skills.
  • Understand production techniques and processes.
  • Be confident and resourceful.
  • Be good at dealing with people in pressurised situations.
  • Have energy and stamina.
  • Enjoy problem solving.
  • Be versatile and willing to learn new things.
  • Be a good team-worker.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, production assistants may work their way towards more senior roles, such as senior production assistant, production manager, production co-ordinator, script supervisor, producer or director. Some move into related areas, such as research.

Freelance production assistants need to establish their reputation and build up a network of contacts to ensure a regular supply of work.

Get Further Information

4talent (for artist profiles, careers advice,
training and funding information)
Website: www.channel4.com/4talent

BBC Recruitment, PO Box 48305,
London W12 6YE
Tel: 0870 333 1330
Website: www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

The British Film Institute (BFI),
21 Stephen Street, London W1T 1LN
Tel: 020 7255 1444
Website: www.bfi.org.uk

The Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph
and Theatre Union (BECTU), 373-377 Clapham Road,
London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

Community Media Association,
The Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row,
Sheffield S1 2BX
Tel: 0114 279 5219
Website: www.commedia.org.uk

FT2 - Film and Television Freelance Training Ltd,
3rd Floor, 18-20 Southwark Street,
London SE1 1TJ
Tel: 020 7407 0344
Website: www.ft2.org.uk

Independent Television Association,
ITV Network Centre, 200 Gray's Inn Road,
London WC1X 8HF
Website: www.itvjobs.com

National Film and Television School (NFTS),
Beaconsfield Studios, Station Road,
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire HP9 1LG
Tel: 01494 671234
Website: www.nftsfilm-tv.ac.uk

The Production Guild, N & P Complex,
Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath,
Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH
Tel: 01753 651767
Website: www.productionguild.com

Scottish Screen,
249 West George Street,
Glasgow G2 4QE
Tel: 0845 300 7300
Website: www.scottishscreen.com

Skillset, Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road,
London N1 9GB
Free careers helplines:
Tel: 08080 300 900 (England and Northern Ireland),
Tel: 0808 100 8094 (Scotland)
Tel: 0800 0121 815 (Wales)
Website: www.skillset.org

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